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We need to remove barriers to employment for young people with chronic and long-term health conditions

Authors: The Work Foundation Lisa O'Dea

24 August 2012


Figures released this week show that 1 in 6 young people are not in education, employment or training (NEET).  What is less well known is that the chances of young people to enter employment may be further exacerbated by the early onset of chronic and long-term conditions.  A recent survey by the National Autistic Society found that 1 in 3 young people (aged 16 – 24) with autism are  NEET, a much larger number compared to the general population.  

A range of long-term and chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, schizophrenia or Type 1 Diabetes, are first diagnosed among young people.  These conditions are often fluctuating and have unpredictable symptoms, which makes them difficult to live with and makes it difficult for individuals to manage day to day tasks.  With young people struggling to secure jobs in the current labour market, those with chronic and long-term conditions face an additional barrier to entering the workforce.  Poor access to employment opportunities in early adulthood has been linked to accumulated health inequalities and social disadvantage in later life.

Studies have shown that young people with chronic and long-term conditions often downgrade their educational and employment aspirations, which undermines their chances of finding good work.  They often find the prospect of gaining their first job a daunting challenge, as they worry about being able to manage their symptoms in the workplace, especially if those symptoms are sporadic and cause discomfort.  They are also anxious that, due to the stigma associated with their conditions, they may be discriminated against when looking for their first job.  Research has also shown that young people fear their condition will affect their ability to be productive at work and that their need for workplace adjustments or time off for hospital appointments will make them more vulnerable in times of job insecurity

If we are to tackle the problem of youth unemployment, we need to make sure that barriers to finding employment are removed.  Some talented young people will have a chronic and long-term condition and many of them will feel anxious about employment. Employers need to help facilitate that first employment experience by accommodating flexible working and adjustments to the workplace environment.  This will enable young people with chronic and long-term conditions to start leading fulfilling working lives.

As part of the Fit for Work UK Coalition activities, our research into the experiences of people with long-term health conditions will be informed by focusing on identifying the specific barriers faced by young people with chronic disease who are entering employment, offering solutions to support them into the world of work.

If you are 18-25 and living with a long-term condition, please help us with our research by completing a short survey: http://www.theworkfoundation.com/surveys/uk/f4w.htm